Mookie Betts, Dodgers’ depth keep team rolling despite star struggles

Through Pedro Mura
FOX Sports MLB Author

That dodgers just wrapped up the most grueling stretch of their season, a 30-day stretch in which they played 31 games. They won 19 of those, which kept them at a 105-win pace for the year. In most cases the month was a complete success.

By her standards, it was a little less. Pennsylvania’s modest teams worried them as the Dodgers lost nine of 13 to the Pirates and Phillies. Last weekend in Los Angeles, they could only manage a split with the Mets, the team that could challenge them the most in October. And some of their stars remain worryingly far from their brand form.

It’s an odd situation the Dodgers are in. Their running differential leads the sport, and they lead their division — but only by a couple of games over the Padres. The Dodgers aren’t exactly dominating as expected. They got to this point because of the unexpectedly great performances from the likes of Tyler Anderson and Tony Gonsolin.

When the season started two months ago, the two formed a sort of piggyback as the Dodgers’ collective fifth starter. They instead combined to log a 2.11 ERA over 100 innings in 20 games, 18 of them starting, forced into action due to injuries to the rest of the staff. According to baseball reference calculations, Anderson and Gonsolin were two of the Dodgers’ four most valuable players this season.

The Dodgers’ top two starters, Walker Buehler and Julio Urías, were their 10th and 12th most valuable players, according to baseball reference. Both pitchers were fairly effective, but the underlying stats say they were even worse than the numbers show.

The contrast shows how surprising the first third of this season was. Clayton Kershaw was injured. Buehler has been bad lately. Urias was OK. Justin Turner and Cody Bellinger were well below average. Max Muncy was unlucky and ineffective and now he’s injured. Gavin Lux still hasn’t escaped. The team’s best helper wasn’t Craig Kimbrel, the hiring shooter, or shutout setup man Blake Treinen, or hard-fought young man Brusdar Graterol, but grizzly veteran Daniel Hudson, who signed an affordable one-year deal during the offseason.

Yet the Dodgers are on track to surpass even the most optimistic expectations for their 2022 campaign. They still have over a 99.9% chance of making the playoffs according to Baseball Reference calculations and a 97.8% chance as measured by FanGraphs. That’s a testament to the depth they’ve garnered in Los Angeles. Many elements of their machine may stop working, and they as a whole may continue to hum.

Even if it doesn’t always feel like a cruise. They haven’t dominated the league’s scum in the way they or their fans expect them to.

“I think we didn’t really play great,” right fielder Mookie Betts recently told reporters. “I know we win games and find ways, but we’re still a long way from getting all four facets together – baserunning, defense, hitting and pitching. I think we’re doing everything well, but we’re slacking off in certain areas, we don’t have to. It comes back to hurt us but luckily we’re a good team and we made it through.

May the monster from Mookie Betts

May the monster from Mookie Betts

Ben Verlander talks about the recent resurgence of Mookie Betts and what it means for the future of the Dodgers.

Betts was the only dominant member of the Dodgers, and even he started out slow. But for the past month, he’s been baseball’s best player, strong on the plate, efficient on the basepaths, and smart on the field. He’s so hot right now that Mets manager Buck Showalter pulled his starter during an at-bat against Betts over the weekend — he fouled after a first-pitch strike.

For the Dodgers, Betts is their brightest spot yet. At his best, he’s an MVP talent that a team can carry for months, even in October. Around him, Freddie Freeman and Trea Turner were solid enough to inspire confidence.

The most worrying part of her season was Buehler, who posted a 6.66 ERA in his last five starts. No matter how many regular-season wins the Dodgers have, if they don’t have the normal Buehler back by October, they’re not the same force as he was. Nobody in the organization can replace him as an ace any time soon.

There’s still time. In all his public statements, Buehler has shown an awareness of his predicament. The key to the next two-thirds of the regular season – for him and for the team – will be his return to the ace he once was. The Dodgers need him.

The teams the Dodgers are likely to face as they advance in October — the Mets, maybe the Yankees — have elite pitching stabs. Or in the case of the Mets, they could have one if Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom get well. That’s the category the Dodgers fall into right now. If Kershaw returns well from injury this week, if Buehler regains his form, they will have an elite baton.

If not, they will have uncertainty.

Pedro Moura is the national baseball writer for FOX Sports. He previously covered the Dodgers for The Athletic for three seasons and before that five seasons for the Orange County Register and the LA Times on the Angels and Dodgers. He previously reported on his alma mater, USC, for The son of Brazilian immigrants, he grew up in the southern California suburbs. His first book How to Beat a Broken Game was released this spring. Follow him on Twitter @pedromoura.

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